Elevate Difference

Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman’s Journey Toward Independence

A collection of one novella and a handful of short stories, Year in the Elephant is a translation from Arabic that does a great job of painting life in Morocco prior to and after independence from the French colonial power. The realization of independence is at times painful and disappointing, but Abouzeid’s characters are full of conviction and passion.

In the novella, "Year of the Elephant," the main character, Zahara, narrates the double-edged history that she has experienced; fighting for Moroccan freedom and finding herself alone after decades of marriage (to a man who leaves her after the revolution, simply because she isn’t “modern” enough).

As a Muslim woman, Zahara is well-balanced and strong. She represents women who courageously steps into the spiritual unknown. Like many other women, she begins to doubt Allah when her marriage is abruptly ended. Expectedly bitter, she repeatedly refers to how her ex throws a few months’ worth of money (as per divorce law) at her, just enough for nothing but a room she owns in her old family house.

Although she spends a few days in her hometown—to which she can’t return permanently because her heart belongs elsewhere. With the help of a holy man, she must decide whether to let her bitterness engulf her or put the past behind her and move on.

Along the journey, the writer gives us glimpses of the devastation colonialism had on Moroccan peoples, from men and women to children. Independence and change in class status turns her husband into a cold, materialistic man. Going from poverty to a manor is unnerving for Zahara; she becomes depressed as she is slowly traded in for a younger woman. Having a chauffeur doesn’t make up for it.

Similarly, the unrelated stand-alone short stories deal with issues such as poverty and the struggle for national independence. In “The Discontented,” two male cousins, one rich, another poor, have a visit. The wealthier one offers the other a job which will give him better housing and money. Ultimately, he turns him down, arguing that he doesn’t want his children’s education ruined by elitist superiority. The fight for freedom brought the people of Morocco together, but paradoxically, freedom divided them.

Written by: Nicolette Westfall, January 15th 2010